On December 22, 2019, the Assembly of God Church at No 13, Wopara Street, Mile 4, Rumuepirikom, Port Harcourt was thrown into pandemonium when a 17-month-old baby mysteriously disappeared during a harvest feast. The child, Dominion Igwe, was reportedly stolen from the Children Department while sleeping among other children.
The father of the missing child, His Royal Highness, Eze Nnabugo Igwe, from Egbada community, Onelga Local Government Area of Rivers State initially reported the case at Akala Police Station in Rumuepirikomi. Later, he wrote a petition, dated January 7, 2020, to the Commissioner of Police, Mr Mustapha Dandaura and the case was transferred to the Eagle Crack squad.
It was only a matter of time before the detectives got a lead. Eventually, a group of individuals were arrested. The case became a can of worm. When unmasked, the leading suspect turned out to be a 35-year-old self-acclaimed evangelist, Grace Azikwe, who admitted she had stolen over 10 babies from different churches in the Rivers State capital. The 17-month-old was recovered from the woman who bought him for almost a million naira.
Culprits and accomplices
A total of seven persons were arrested by detectives in connection with the case. They include Evangelist Grace Azikwe, 35, Evangelist Lillian Chukwudaah, 37, Confidence Iheanacho, 47, and Love Adumo, 58. Others are Ebere Ugonna Blessing, 25, Kute Mubana, 64, Pastor Patricia Oluji, 57, and Regina Bronhoy Akuru, 48.
The prime suspect, Grace Azikwe hails from Akwa Ibom State. The widow and mother of two who claimed she is “an evangelist in the Word Ministry Church” admitted she had “stolen babies from over 10 different churches in Port-Harcourt.” In a lengthy interview, she narrated how she planned the abduction of the child on December 22, 2019.
“I wanted to steal a baby in Salvation Ministry, but because of CCTV camera, I couldn’t. So I went to Assemblies of God instead, at first, for prayer because my son was sick. My friend in the church, Evangelist Lillian Chukwudaah, took me before their pastor and he prayed for my son. I studied the environment of the church and noticed the absence of CCTV. I also noted that my friend Evangelist Lilian heads the Department of Children.
“I came back during Harvest period and went straight to the Department of Children where some babies were laid down deep in sleep. I stole one child and took him away. Immediately, I got away I called Madam Confidence Iheanacho. I slept in her house with the stolen child. We did HIV test for the child and I was given N400,000 as my own share”.
She continued: “I used my title of ‘ Evangelist’ to deceive different churches and organisations in Port Harcourt. I used it as a cover to carry out child trafficking activities. Since my husband’s death, I have been living in hardship. I feel this is the only way I can survive in life.”
The second suspect, Confidence Iheanacho admitted complicity in the crime. “Evangelist Grace Azikwe brought the child to my house,” she stated. “She and the child slept in my house that night. We had contacted Madam Love Adumo who in turn got in touch with Ebere Ugonna Blessing to call a buyer whom they handed the child to at Igwuruta Market. “I learnt that they paid N500, 000, but I received N70, 000 as my share,” Iheanacho disclosed.
Madam Love Adumo who hails from Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, also described her role in the saga: “I told them to do HIV test for the child, which they did.” Adumo, a widow who has no child of her own admitted receiving N40, 000 from the deal.
Ebere Ugonna Blessing who brokered the deal avowed that when Adumo requested for a buyer, she called Madam Kute Mubana whom the eventually handed the stolen child to at Igwurrata Market.
The native of Abhor Local Government Area of Rivers State claimed they were given N500, 000. “I got N30, 000 as my own share which I have used to pay for my children’s school fees,” she said.
Evangelist Lilian Chukwudaah, a member of the Church that was implicated in the case gave an explanation that seemed to absolve her of any collusion.
Her story: “I know Evangelist Grace Azikwe as a friend. She told me that her son was sick when she came to our church so I took her to my pastor who prayed for the child. I was surprised that she was the one behind the missing child. The pastor in the church had alleged it was the strange woman he prayed for that stole the child.
“As a member of Assemblies of God Church and head of the Department of Children, detectives arrested me on January 7, 2020. With God on my side, we were able to arrest Evangelist Grace Azikwe who confessed that she was the one who stole the child from the church.”
Brokers and buyer of the stolen child
On January 16, 2020, Eagle Crack Squad commander, Superintendent of Police Benson Adetuyi, completely unravelled the case by arresting Regina Branttey Akuru who bought the abducted child. The child was recovered from her house at Rumuola, Port Harcourt.
The 48-year-old, however, maintained her innocence. She told Saturday Sun: “I am presently working in the Account Department of the Ministry of Education, Rivers State. I got married to Chief Brown Akuru in 2016 and I don’t have a child. I went to Social Welfare at the State Secretariat to apply for adoption of a baby. They refused my request. Then Pastor Patricia Oluji who came to our house during a ceremony advised us to adopt a baby. I explained everything to her and she promised to get me a baby to adopt. On December 23, she brought a baby aged one year and five months to me and I gave her N900, 000.”
Continuing, she stated: “I asked whether it was genuine and she told me that they have documents. My husband was so happy when they brought the baby. I named the baby JC which means Royalty. I even told my neighbour and pastor in my church that I have adopted a baby.
I went to the market and bought baby’s clothes. So, I was shocked when detectives came to my house with Pastor Patricia Oluji to arrest me and they said the baby I adopted was a stolen baby. It was the greatest shame in my life.”
Pastor Oluji in turn explained that she was blindsided by those who stole the child: “The Akurus are family friends. She approached me that I should help her adopt a baby. I promised to get her a genuine baby with proper documentation. I approached Kute Mubana who brought the child. I handed over the child to Regina and I transferred the N900,000 she gave me to Mubana. I didn’t take a dime from the money. I was shocked when I was invited by the Eagle Crack Squad on January 16 in the case of a stolen child. As a pastor in a church, I never involved myself in any child trafficking.”
Unlike the other two, Kute Mubana, the 67-year-old from Elelenwo in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of River State admitted being a child trafficker, and as a matter of fact, had in that instance committed the crime for the second time.
The retiree of the Ministry of Sports in Rivers State said: “Pastor Patricia Oluji asked whether I have any baby and I said yes. I knew the child was stolen. I brought the baby to her and she gave me N900,000. I collected N50, 000 as my own share.”
The child has since been handed over to his parents while all the suspects involved in this case of child trafficking will be charged to court soon, according to Rivers State Commissioner of Police.